Tuesday, January 27, 2015
The Importance of Checks & Balances in Law Firm Management, Including Handling Of Elder Client Funds
A news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Western Virginia provides an important reminder of the importance for every lawyer of having a system of checks and balances for law office management, to prevent any single employee from having unsupervised access or exclusive control over client trust funds. On December 15, 2014, a 34-year-old legal assistant at a law firm in Virginia was sentenced to 24 months in federal prison for stealing more than $183k from an elderly client of the law firm. The lawyer who employed that assistant had been named by the county to serve as the conservator for the elderly woman who became the victim. According to the news release, the attorney "allowed [the legal assistant] to access the elderly woman's bank accounts,...but [the assistant] did not have signature authority on the accounts."
According to the news release, the employer "to date... has repaid $104,990.15." One suspects the law firm (or, its insurer) will have to pay the whole tab, even though the sentencing order imposes an obligation of restitution for the full sum on the legal assistant.
Sunday, November 30, 2014
Justice Department Reaches $437,500 Agreement with City of Ocean Springs, MS to Resolve Disability Discrimination Lawsuit
The Justice Department announced a comprehensive settlement today, resolving a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of Ocean Springs, Mississippi, for alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under the proposed consent decree, the City will pay $437,500 in damages to a psychiatric treatment facility that was discriminated against by the City. The decree also requires systemic reforms to the City's land use and zoning practices to eliminate barriers for providers of mental health services to people with disabilities and combat the stigma of mental illness. The complaint, also filed in federal court today, alleges that the City discriminated against Psycamore, LLC, an outpatient psychiatric treatment facility, when it denied a certificate of occupancy and a use permit because Psycamore treats patients with mental illness.
Monday, November 24, 2014
Several high profile incidents, such as those reported here in our Blog and here by the Philadelphia Inquirer, involving attorneys disciplined or convicted of theft of client funds, have triggered proposed changes in Pennsylvania's Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys. The rule changes proposed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's Disciplinary Board include:
- imposing restrictions on an attorney's brokering or offering of "investment products" connected to that lawyer's provision of legal services;
- clarifying the type of financial records that attorneys would be required to maintain and report, regarding their handling of client funds and fiduciary accounts;
- clarifying the obligation of attorneys to cooperate with investigations in a timely fashion;
- clarifying the obligation of suspended, disbarred, or "inactive" attorneys to cease operations and to notify clients "promptly" of the change in their professional status.
The Disciplinary Board called for comments on the proposed rule changes, noting that although individual claims against the Pennsylvania Lawyers Fund for Client Security are confidential, "Fund personnel can attest that from time to time, the number of claims filed against a single attorney will be in double digits and the total compensable loss will amount to millions of dollars." The comment window closed on November 3. 2014.
In recommending changes, the Disciplinary Board noted common threads running through many of the cases, including:
November 24, 2014 in Crimes, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, October 27, 2014
Last week I was part of a panel hosted by the National Continuing Care Residents' Association (NaCCRA) in Nashville, a component of the larger (much larger!) annual meeting of LeadingAge. The theme for the panel was "Resident Engagement in Continuing Care Life" and for my part of the panel, I used an interesting Third Circuit bankruptcy court decision, In re Lemington Home for the Aged, to discuss whether residents of financially troubled CCRCs should be treated as entitled to enforce specific fiduciary duties owed by the CCRC owners to creditors generally, even unsecured creditors, fiduciary duties that may give rise to a direct cause of action connected to "deepening insolvency."
Jennifer Young (pictured on the left), a CCRC resident, talked about what it is like to "be" an unsecured creditor in a CCRC's Chapter 11 bankruptcy court proceeding. Her explanation of how creditors' committees operate in bankruptcy court (including how they hire legal counsel and how that counsel is paid out of the Debtor's estate) was both practical and illuminating. The closing speaker on the panel was Jack Cumming (below left). Jack's has deep experience as an actuary and a CCRC resident. He noted the disconnect between the intentions of providers and the realities faced by residents and called for stronger accountability in investment of resident fees. I always come away from my time with Jack with lots to think about. Our moderator was NaCCRA president Daniel Seeger (right), from Pennswood Village in Pennsylvania.
In my final comments, I reminded our audience that even though our panel was focusing on "problems" with certain CCRC operations, including some multi-site facilities, many (indeed most) CCRCs are on sound financial footing, especially as occupancy numbers rebound in several regions of the country. Both panelists and audience members emphasized, however, that for CCRCs to be able to attract new residents, the responsibility of the CCRC industry must improve. For more on these financial points, go to NaCCRA's great educational website, that includes both text and videos, here.
Interestingly, during the LeadingAge programming that began on Saturday, October 18 and continued through October 22, I was hearing a lot about a potentially major shift in the long-term housing and service market. Some of the largest attendance was for deep-dive sessions on new service models for "Continuing Care at Home," sometimes shortened to CCAH or CCaH. CCAH is often seen as a way for more traditional CCRCs to broaden their client base, particularly in the face of occupancy challenges that began with the financial crisis of 2008-2010.
As a corollary of this observation about market change, one of the topics under debate within the leadership of LeadingAge is whether Continuing Care Retirement Communities need a new name, and I can see movement to adopt a name that aligns better with the larger menu of non-facility based services that many providers are seeking to offer.
Of course, as a law professor, I wonder what these market changes mean for oversight or regulation of new models. Not all states are keeping up with the changes in the Continuing Care industry, and name changes may complicate or obscure the most important regulatory questions.
Sunday, October 26, 2014
As regular readers of the Elder Law Prof Blog may recognize, I reside and work squarely in a zone where "filial support claims" are more than just theoretical propositions. Pennsylvania continues to be Ground Zero for modern complications arising from use of a Colonial era law that permits adult children to be held liable for the cost of an indigent parent's long-term care.
The latest example is In re Skinner, 2014 WL 5033258, decided by Bankruptcy Judge Madeline Coleman in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on October 8, 2014.
The issue is whether one sibling can prevent another sibling from "discharging" any obligation to pay an assisted living facility for their mother's care. Both brothers were sued by the facility, resulting in a default judgment against one brother (Thomas) for $32,225, who in turn sought discharge of that debt in bankruptcy court. Brother William, probably facing the prospect of picking up the full tab for his defaulting brother, initiated an adversary proceeding, seeking to prevent the discharge. The court concludes that Brother William "lacks standing" to prevent Brother Thomas' discharge of the debt to the assisted living facility.
In dismissing Brother William's claim, the Bankruptcy Judge addresses both the Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act and Pennsylvania's filial support law. According to the opinion, Brother William alleges that Thomas used a Power of Attorney executed by their mother in 2007, to access her bank accounts in a "scheme [with his wife] to use the Mother's assets, including her interest in long-term care benefits, to fund approximately $85,000 of their personal expenses." However, the court concludes that even accepting the truth of allegations that "suggest that the Mother was injured by the [Thomas'] conduct, that conduct was directed at the Mother and her property. The conduct was not directed at [William]." The Bankruptcy Court also rejected any theory of "derivative standing."
October 26, 2014 in Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
I've heard about the backlog for SSD appeals, but I had no idea how much of a backlog exists until I read the story in the October 19, 2014 Washington Post. Waiting on a Social Security disability appeal? Get in line — a very long line brings a new perspective on waiting lists. The story reports that there are 990,399 (you read that right, 990,399) SSD appeals waiting for ALJ hearings. We have been hearing a lot about the backlog with the VA (526,000 according to the story) so why haven't we heard about the SSDI case backlog? Want to know how long it takes for a backlog of almost one million cases to occur? According to the Post story, the backlog has been going on since President Ford's administration, but a significant increase occurred between 2008-20014. Why did this occur? "[T]he system became, in effect, too big to fix: Reforms were hugely expensive and so logistically complicated that they often stalled, unfinished. What’s left now is an office that costs taxpayers billions and still forces applicants to wait more than a year — often, without a paycheck — before delivering an answer about their benefits." As well, factor in the "Great Recession" and Boomers. The article also mentions budget cuts to SSA as well as the government shutdown in 2013.
A sad irony-the story quotes one of the ALJs in S. Florida who had 2 claimants die before their appeals were heard, but the ALJ still had to hear the case of one, because if the decedent were determined to have been disabled, then the decedent's surviving child might receive benefits.
Although SSD waiting lists outnumber both VA and Patents, according to the story, the wait time to decision is shorter than that for the VA and Patent office. The SSA ALJs "are the moral centerpiece of this system: a symbol that the government intends to apply the old American ideal of due process before the law to the vast new caseloads of the American welfare state. They are also the system’s biggest problem — a 40-year-old clog in the pipe." A law prof at GW, Richard Pierce, takes the position "that the government should eliminate the judges altogether and just let the bureaucrats with the paperwork decide. [Professor Pierce] said that the main thing these hearings bring to the process — that face-to-face interaction between judges and applicants — often adds only pathos, not useful information."
A push to shrink the backload resulted in a drop of both cases and wait time in 2010 but a review of the decisions noted an uptick in the award of benefits. It would seem, from reading this article, that part of the problem is outdated requirements and resources available to the judges (or lack thereof). SSA has lessened the pressure on the ALJs to some extent, so now the ALJs are "limited ... to 720 cases a year and [SSA] imposed new checks to make sure the “yes” decisions are as well thought-out as the 'noes.'" The uptick in benefits awards has dropped, with the award of benefits at 44%. Despite the fact that SSSA has hired more ALJs, the backlog is pushing one million. The Post reports that there were an additional 13,000 added in the first two weeks of October! The story concludes by noting that the backlog isn't limited to just the ALJs. The Appeals Council also has a backlog: "There are 150,383 people waiting for an Appeals Council decision. The average wait there is 374 days."
Thursday, September 11, 2014
Judge Geraci of the U.S. District Court, Western District of New York, is the latest judge to address an important topic in Elder Law regarding eligibility for long-term care benefits under Medicaid. The court defines the issue as follows: "When an uncompensated transfer of assets has been made and a [Medicaid] penalty period imposed, how does a partial return of the transferred funds affect the beginning of the penalty period?"
In its August 2014 decision in Aplin v. McCrossen, the court addresses summary judgment motions in two separate cases that were filed on behalf of 80-year-old Florence Aplin and 85-year old Sergio Ciardi, both residents of nursing homes. In one case, for example, the Aplin case, the transfers totaled approximately $450,000; however, approximately $76,000 was later returned by the donees. The hope of the plaintiffs was that "return" of the money would permit them to shorten their penalty periods tied to the original transfers. This approach, when planned in advance, is a post-Deficit Reduction Act technique sometimes known in Elder Law circles as a "partial cure" (as part of "reverse half-a-loaf" gifting).
Judge Geraci denied the relief sought by the plaintiffs. He followed the hardline approach of "nonprecedential" rulings on New Jersey disputes about partial cures, ruling that "return" of money permits the state agency to recalculate the start of the penalty period. The court decided that NY administrative rules do not conflict with federal policy and not only permit but require the state agency to, in effect, restart the penalty period on the ground that the later date is when the "applicant becomes otherwise eligible for Medicaid." This phrase is a key concept in federal Medicaid law. The plaintiffs had argued that phrase applied only to an earlier date, from their original application. Judge Geraci concluded:
"I find no circumstances in this case which indicated that Defendants' interpretation and application of the provisions of [New York administrative directives] contravene Congress' articulated purpose in enacting the Medicaid Act -- to provide medical care, services and supplies for the financially needy. Essentially, the assessment of an applicant's income and resources which results in a determination that such applicant has transferred resources for less than fair market value during the statutory look-back period and that an appropriate penalty period must be imposed, ensures that the applicant has not falsely impoverished himself or herself in order to qualify for medical assistance at public expenses which, by law, is undeserved."
While it is apparent that the New York federal judge was not eager to give applicants any benefit tied to partial cures on transfers, the decision also appears to approve or at least ignore what some would describe as a "perverse effect" of the New York policy. By imposing a new, later "start date" for the ineligibility period following the return, New York can actually impose a penalty that is longer than the original penalty period for the full transfer.
Also at issue in the case was the effect of a series of statements on the federal government's side, including the so-called "McGreal Letter" from CMS that was relied on by the plaintiffs in making the returns. (The court did not expressly address a May 2014 GAO study, where it was reported at page 28 that "[a]ccording to CMS, states can choose whether or not to consider a partial return of transferred assets on Medicaid planning.")
Should there be uniformity among the states, not just on whether but how families can seek any relief from "resource" limits set by federal law? (The GAO study linked above indicates a range of different state-specific options are in play.) The answer to that question may depend on one's point of view.
For more background on the complex interaction between Medicaid applications, ineligibility periods triggered by uncompensated transfers, partial cure attempts and penalty start dates, see ElderLawGuy Jeff Marshall's blog post from 2011.
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
John Washlick, a shareholder with Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney in Philadelphia and Princeton, provides a concise and useful overview of laws that form the basis for claims of "fraud" or "abuse" associated with Medicare and Medicaid in the most recent issue of Pennsylvania Bar Quarterly (April 2014, available also on Westlaw). The abstract to his article, "Health Care Fraud and Abuse," provides:
"Medicare and Medicaid combined comprise the largest payer of health care services in the world, and account for over 20 percent of all U.S. government spending. As a result, efforts to combat fraud and abuse in these programs have become a congressional and administrative priority. This article will address four significant federal fraud and abuse laws: (i) Anti-Kickback Statute, (ii) "Stark" Anti-Referral Law, (iii) Civil Monetary Provisions, and (iv) False Claims Act (Civil and Criminal). The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, more commonly referred to as the "Affordable Care Act" significantly strengthened each of these laws, including increased funding to step up enforcement actions. There are other federal and state statutes that are aimed at curbing fraud and abuse and they should not be ignored when reviewing a financial arrangement between or among potential referral sources."
A useful guide, especially when reading about multi-million dollar settlements in whistleblower cases growing out of nursing home care, home care, hospice care, and pharmaceutical sales, such as the Omnicare settlement reported on the Elder Law Prof Blog today.
From the Department of Justice, news of the False Claims Act settlement reached with Omnicare Inc., "the nation's largest provider of pharmaceuticals and pharmacy services to nursing homes." The company has agreed to pay $124.24 million "in return for their continued selection" as the supplier of drugs to elderly Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. The claims related to improper discounts allegedly given by Omnicare as incentives for doing business with the company.
According to the DOJ press release, the settlement resolves two lawsuits filed by whistleblowers under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act. "The first whistleblower, Donald Gale, a former Omnicare employee, will receive $ 17.24 million."
DOJ states that since January 2009, it has "recovered a total of more than $19.5 billion through False Claims Act cases," including more than $13.9 billion in cases alleging fraud associated with health care programs.
What do you think about promotion of filial support laws -- laws potentially obligating adult children to care for and maintain or financially assist an indigent parent -- as grounds to encourage states to promote the purchase of "long-term care" insurance? In essence, that is what three authors associated with the "American College of Financial Services" advocate in a recent article for volume 20 of Widener Law Review. Here's the SSRN abstract from "Leveraging Filial Support Laws Under State Partnership Programs for Long-Term Care Insurance."
"As thousands of the United States’ baby-boomers retire each day, people live longer, families disperse, and the population ages. Financing long-term care needs has become an increasingly important focal point in both civilian and government budget discussions. In order to reduce reliance on government provided long-term care funding programs such as Medicaid, states can leverage the often unenforced filial responsibility laws and State Long-Term Care Partnership Programs. Through the enforcement of existing filial responsibility laws, states can provide the proverbial “stick” to incentivize people to purchase long-term care insurance by increasing their personal liability for their family members’ long-term care expenditures. Furthermore, by offering liability protections from filial responsibility laws under the state’s long-term care insurance partnership program, states will be able to offer a “carrot” to encourage participation in the long-term care insurance market. Ultimately, by leveraging these two existing legal structures, states can incentivize the purchase of long-term care insurance and reduce reliance on government provided long-term care financing programs."
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
From Senior Housing News, comes the word of River Terrace Estates, a nonprofit Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) in Bluffton, Indiana, that filed for protection in bankruptcy court on July 22. Unlike some Chapter 11 reorganizations for CCRCs, River Terrace is not a "new" construction, having opened in 2004. However, as with newer operations that came on line just as the 2008 financial crisis hit, River Terrace reports being impacted by the recession, reportedly a hard hit for housing in Northern Indiana. As described in Senior Housing News, one potentially unique aspect of the River Terrace financing issues is the source of the loans it carried:
"Contrary to some CCRCs that rely heavily on institutional investments, River Terrace Estates’ financing encompasses roughly 1,400 individuals who own RTE bonds. As a result, the CCRC determined that Ch. 11 was the only feasible method to restructure the bonds. In connection with the filing, the CCRC has already filed a plan of reorganization in order to expedite the process, River Terrace Estates stated in a news release.
'Because we have some 1,400 bondholders, we decided the best way to give them a voice in this process is to ask them to vote on a two-part plan so we know their intentions,' Stewart said. RTE bondholders will be asked to vote on whether they want to keep their bonds for the long-term based on the community’s recent progress, or market the CCRC to validate its value."
According to news reports, either way, "bondholders will take a serious haircut, perhaps recovering only 53% in a bond exchange or $0.46 on the dollar in the sale of the facility, a hard hit on predominantly non-institutional investors," according to George Mesires, a lawyer with the finance and restructuring team for a Chicago law firm, quoted in Senior Housing News and on the firm's website.
Another potentially unique feature will be River Terrace Estate's plan for going forward with a different payment model for new residents. Rather than paying an entry fee described as $55k to $100k, new residents can pay a "nonrefundable communtiy fee of about $30,000, accordiong to figures provided" by a spokesperson quoted in Senior Housing News.
This summer has brought news of other financial struggles for CCRCs, including the June Chapter 11 filing by Texas-based senior living company Sears Methodist Retirement Systems, and the Chapter 11 filing by a New York life care community, The Amsterdam on July 23. The ability of CCRCs to emerge successfully from similar reorganizations in the past has often depended on new operating partners and restructuring of loans, but also on the ability of the companies to reassure future residents of appropriate protection and use of "large" upfront fees.
Monday, July 28, 2014
Recently a former law student who is considering a career change asked me about elder law, wanting to meet with me to discuss what is involved. I'm happy to chat any time with current and former students, especially about elder law, but this time my advice was simple: "Drop everything and go to Pennsylvania's 2014 Elder Law Institute." Indeed, this year saw some 400 individuals attend.
Important to my advice was the fact that ELI is organized well for both "newbies" and more experienced practitioners. After the first two-hour joint session, over the course of two days there are four sessions offered every hour. One entire track is devoted to "Just the Basics" and is perfect for the aspiring elder law attorney. Indeed, I usually sponsor two Penn State law students to attend. As in most specializations, in elder law there will is a steep learning curve just to understand the basic jargon, and the more exposure the better.
One of my favorite sessions is the first, "The Year in Review," a long tradition at ELI and currently presented by Marielle Hazen and Rob Clofine. Marielle reviews new legislation and regulations, both at the state and federal level, while Rob does a "Top Ten Cases" review. Both speakers focus not just on what happened in the last 12 months, but what could or should happen in the future. They frequently pose important policy perspectives, based on recent events.
Among the highlights from the year in review session:
- Analysis of the GAO Report on "Medicaid: Financial Characteristics of Approved Applicants and Methods Used to Reduce Assets to Qualify for Nursing Home Coverage" released in late June 2014. Data collection efforts focused on four states and reportedly included "under cover" individuals posing as potential applicants. The report summarizes techniques used to reduce countable resources, most occuring well within the rules and thus triggering no question of penalty periods. Whether Congress uses the report in any way to confirm or change existing rules remains to be seen.
- A GAO Report on Medicaid Managed Care programs, also released in June, concluding that additional oversight efforts are needed to ensure the integrity of programs in the states, which are already reporting higher increases in outgoing funds than fee-for-service programs.
- The need to keep an eye open for Pennsylvania's Long Term Care Comission report, expected by December 2014. Will it take issue with the Governor's rejection of the Affordable Care Act's funding for expansion of Medicaid?
- Report on a number of lower court decisions involving nursing home payment issues, including a report on a troubling case, Estate of Parker, 4 Pa. Fiduciary Reporter 3d 183 (Orphans' Court, Montgomery County, PA 2014), in which a court-appointed guardian of the estate of an elderly nursing home patient "agreed" to entry of a judgment, not just for nursing home charges, but also for pre- and post-judgment interest, plus attorneys' fees for the nursing home's lawyer of almost 20% of the stipulated judgment, in what was an uncontested guardianship.
In light of the number of nursing home payment cases in Rob's review, perhaps it wasn't a surprise that my co-presenter, Stanley Vasiliadis, and I had a full house for our session on "Why Am I Being Sued for My Parents' Nursing Home Bill?" We examined how adult children (and sometimes elderly parents of adult children in care) are finding themselves the target of collection efforts by nursing homes, including actions based on theories of breach of promise (contract, quatum meruit, and promissory estoppel), fault (common law fraud or statutory claims of "fraudulent transfers), or family status, such as statutory filial support.
The extensive course materials from all of the presenters, both in hard copy and electronic formats, are available for purchase directly from the Pennsylvania Bar Institute.
July 28, 2014 in Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Medicaid, Medicare, Programs/CLEs, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Sunday, July 27, 2014
The Amsterdam, also known as Amsterdam House at Harborside, has been marketed as the "first and only" life care community in Nassau County. It now also appears to be the first CCRC in that county -- and perhaps in the state of New York -- to seek the protection of the bankruptcy court. The company filed under Chapter 11 for "Reorganization" on July 23, 2014.
As reported in Newsday on July 23:
"An upscale retirement community in Port Washington has filed for bankruptcy protection after failing to get all of its bondholders to support a debt restructuring. The Amsterdam at Harborside sought protection in federal court from its creditors under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. Executives at the not-for-profit said Wednesday that it would not close and there are no plans to fire any of the 173 employees. In a court filing in Central Islip on Tuesday, the continuing-care complex said its liabilities and assets were both in the range of more than $100 million to $500 million."
According to news reports, The Amsterdam was opened in 2010, near the peak of the recession, a tough time for many CCRCs. It is a "refundable entrance" fee model, with entrance fees ranging from $500,000 to $1.6 million, with a reported 85% occupancy status. Newsday also reports that "under the proposed restructuring plan, [company spokespersons said] the retirement community would honor the contracts of existing residents, continue to refund residents' money when they no longer live there, and maintain the current fee structure."
Update: Senior Housing News describes the filing as a "pre-negotiated chapter 11 bankruptcy petition to restructure an estimated $220 million in debt."
Sunday, July 20, 2014
The growing significance and scope of "elder law" is demonstrated by the program for the upcoming 2014 Elder Law Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to be held on July 24-25. In addition to key updates on Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans and Social Security law, plus updates on the very recent changes to Pennsylvania law affecting powers of attorney, here are a few highlights from the multi-track sessions (48 in number!):
- Nationally recognized elder law practitioner, Nell Graham Sale (from one of my other "home" states, New Mexico!) will present on planning and tax implications of trusts, including special needs trusts;
- North Carolina elder law expert Bob Mason will offer limited enrollment sessions on drafting irrevocable trusts;
- We'll hear the latest on representing same-sex couples following Pennsylvania's recent court decision that struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriages;
- Julian Gray, Pittsburgh attorney and outgoing chair of the Pennsylvania Bar's Elder Law Section will present on "firearm laws and gun trusts." By coincidence, I've had two people this week ask me about what happens when you "inherit" guns.
Be there or be square! (Who said that first, anyway?)
July 20, 2014 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Medicaid, Medicare, Programs/CLEs, Property Management, Retirement, Social Security, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
From the New York Times on July 16, 2014, this news of a class action lawsuit challenging dramatic cuts in Medicaid funding for home care:
"A federal class action lawsuit filed late Tuesday accuses New York State health officials of denying or slashing Medicaid home care services to chronically ill and disabled people without proper notice, the chance to appeal or even an explanation, protections required by law.
The lawsuit, filed in United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, names three plaintiffs: an impaired 84-year-old woman living alone in Manhattan, a frail 18-year-old Brooklyn man with severe congenital disabilities, and a 65-year-old Manhattan man with diabetes and a schizoaffective disorder. But it was brought by the New York Legal Assistance Group on behalf of tens of thousands of disabled Medicaid beneficiaries who need home health care or help with daily tasks like bathing and eating."
For the full New York Times article, see Nina Bernstein on "Medicaid Home Care Cuts are Unjust, Lawsuit Says."
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Last week's news of a Chapter 11 Bankruptcy proceeding in the Texas-based senior living company Sears Methodist Retirement Systems, Inc. (SMRS) has once again generated questions about "entrance fees" paid by residents at the outset of their move to a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC). CCRCs typically involve a tiered system of payments, often including a substantial (very substantial) upfront fee, plus monthly "service" fees. The upfront fee will carry a label, such as "admission fee" or "entrance fee" or even entrance "deposit," depending on whether and how state regulations require or permit certain labels to be used.
As a suggestion of the significance of the dollars, a resident's key upfront fee at a CCRC operated by SMRS reportedly ranged from $115,000 to $208,000. And it can be much higher with other companies. So, let's move away from the SMRS case for this "blog" outline of potential issues with upfront resident fees.
Even without talking about bankruptcy court, for residents of CCRCs there can be a basic level of confusion about upfront fees. In some instances, the CCRC marketing materials will indicate the upfront fee is "refundable," in whole or in part, in the event the resident moves out of the community or passes away. Thus, residents may assume the fees are somehow placed in a protected account or escrow account. In fact, even if the upfront fee is not "refundable," when there is a promise of "life time care," residents may assume upfront fees are somehow set aside to pay for such care. How the facility is marketed may increase the opportunity for resident confusion. Residents are looking for reassurances about the costs of future care and how upfront fees could impact their bottom line. That is often why they are looking at CCRCs to begin with. "Refundable fees" or "life care plans" can be important marketing tools for CCRCs. But discussions in the sales office of a CCRC may not mirror the "contract" terms.
One of the most important aspects of CCRCs is the "contract" between the CCRC and the resident. First, smaller "pre move-in" deposits may be paid to "hold" a unit, and this deposit may be expressly subject to an "escrow" obligation. But, larger upfront fees -- paid as part of the residency right -- are typically not escrowed. It is important not to confuse the "escrow" treatment of these fees. Of course, the "hold" fee is not usually the problem. It is the larger upfront fees --such as the $100k+ fees at SMRS -- that can become the focus of questions, especially if a bankruptcy proceeding is initiated.
The resident's contract requires very careful reading, and it will usually explain whether and how a CCRC company will make any refund of large upfront admission fees. In my experience of reading CCRC contracts, CCRCs rarely "guarantee" or "secure" (as opposed to promise) a refund, nor do they promise to escrow such upfront fees for the entire time the payer resides at the CCRC. In some states there is a "reserve" requirement (by contract or state law) for large upfront fees whereby the CCRC has a phased right to release or use the fees for its operation costs. Thus, the contract terms are the starting place for what will happen with upfront fees.
Why doesn't state regulation mandate escrow of large upfront fees? States have been reluctant to give-in to pressure from some resident groups seeking greater mandatory "protection" of their upfront fees. There's often a "free enterprise, let the market control" element to one side of regulatory debates. On the other side, there is the question of whether life savings of the older adult are proper targets for free enterprise theories. Professor Michael Floyd, for example, has asked, "Should Government Regulate the Financial Management of Continuing Care Retirement Communities?"
My research has helped me realize how upfront fees are a key financial "pool" for the CCRC, especially in the early years of operation where the developer is looking to pay off construction costs and loans. CCRCs want -- and often need -- to use those funds for current operations. and debt service. Thus, they don't want to have those fees encumbered by guarantees to residents. They take the position they cannot "afford" to have that pool of money sitting idle in a bank account, earning minimal interest. This is not to say the large entrance fees will be "misspent," but rather, the CCRC owners may wish to preserve flexibility about how and when to spend the upfront fees.
The treatment of "upfront fees" paid by residents of CCRCs also implicates questions about application of accounting and actuarial rules and principles. That important topic is worthy of a whole "law review article" -- and frankly it is a topic I've been working on for months.
In additional to looking for actuarial soundness, analysts who examine CCRCs as a matter of academic interest or practical concern have looked at whether CCRC companies and lenders may have a "fiduciary duty" to older adults/residents, a duty that is independent of any contract law obligations. Analysts further question whether a particular CCRC's marketing or financial practices violate consumer protection or elder protection laws.
There can also be confusion about what happens during a Chapter 11 process. First, during the Chapter 11 Bankruptcy process, a facility may be able to honor pre-bankruptcy petition "refund" requests or requests for refund of fees for a resident who does not move into the facility. Second, to permit continued operation as part of the reorganization plan, a facility will typically be permitted by the Court to accept new residents during the Chapter 11 proceeding and those specific new residents will have their upfront fees placed into a special escrow account, an account that cannot be used to pay the pre-petition debts of the company.
But what about the upfront fees already paid pre-petition by residents who also moved in before the bankruptcy petition? Usually those upfront fees are not escrowed during the bankruptcy process. Indeed, other "secured" creditors could object to refunds of "unsecured" fees. The Bankruptcy Court will usually issue an order -- as it did in SRMS's bankruptcy court case in Texas last week -- specifying how current residents' upfront fees will be treated now and in the future. A bit complicated, right? (And if I'm missing something please feel free to comment. I'm always interested in additional viewpoints on CCRCs. Again, the specific contract and any state laws or regulations governing for handling of fees will be important.)
Of course, this history is one reason some of us have been suggesting for years that prospective residents should have an experienced lawyer or financial consultant help them understand their contracts and evaluate risks before signing and again in the event of any bankruptcy court proceeding. "Get thee to a competent advisor." See also University of New Mexico Law Professor Nathalie Martin's articles on life-care planning risks and bankruptcy law.
As I mentioned briefly in writing last week about the SMRS Chapter 11 proceeding, CCRC operators have learned -- especially after the post-2008 financial crisis -- that the ability of a CCRC to have a viable "second chance" at success in attracting future residents will often depend on the treatment of existing residents. Thus, one key question in any insolvency will be whether the company either (a) finds a new "owner" during the Chapter 11 process or (2) is able to reorganize the other debts, thereby making it possible for the CCRC company to "honor" the resident refund obligations after emerging from the Chapter 11 process.
During the last five years we have seen one "big" default on residents' upfront. refundable entrance fees during the bankruptcy of Covenant at South Hills, a CCRC near Pittsburgh. A new, strong operator eventually did take over the CCRC, and operations continued. However, the new operator did not "assume" an obligation to refund approximately $26 million in upfront fees paid pre-petition by residents to the old owner. In contrast, Chapter 11 proceedings for some other CCRCs have had "gentler" results for residents, with new partners or new financial terms emerging from the proceedings, thereby making refunds possible as new residents take over the departed residents' units.
For more on how CCRC companies view "use" of upfront fees, here's a link to a short and clear discussion prepared by DLA Piper law firm, which, by the way, is the law firm representing the Debtor SMRS in the Texas Chapter 11 proceeding.
June 18, 2014 in Consumer Information, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Retirement, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, June 12, 2014
On June 12, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Clark v. Rameker, concluding that "inherited" IRAs are not protected from a holder's creditors during bankruptcy. Justice Sotomayor delivered the opinion for a unanimous court. In so ruling, the Court rejected application of the "retirement fund" exemption, because unlike a holder's self-funded IRA, inherited accounts lack the "planning" motivation that justified protection of the funds as a retirement asset.
Forbes described the result as "an opinion with far-reaching implications."
Hat top to ElderLawGuy Jeff Marshall as the first to send the link this decision.
Monday, June 9, 2014
Last week, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a district court's rejection of a proposed Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) settlement for $285 million -- because of the absence of any admissions by defendant Citigroup -- was improper. In SEC v. Citigroup Global Markets, a case that arose from investigations into fraud following the financial industries meltdown, the Second Circuit observed that while the court has an obligation to review consent degrees to determine generally the "legality" of the terms and may consider whether the settlement is "fair and reasonable, to demand admissions as a condition of settlement goes too far.
The Second Circuit said, "It is an abuse of discretion to require, as the district court did here, that the S.E.C. establish the 'truth' of the allegations against a settling party as a condition for approving the consent decrees.... Trials are primarily about the truth. Consent decrees are primarily about pragmatism.... Consent decrees provide parties with a means to manage risk."
In cases where injunctive relief is part of the settlement, the Second Circuit said the trial court is permitted to analyze the enforceability of the terms, as a matter of "public interest."
The Wall Street Journal, in reporting on the June 4 decision, observed that the decision "eases pressure" on prosecutors and regulators "to exact admissions of wrongdoing in settlements with companies."
After reading the SEC-related decision, it would seem the same reasoning would govern settlements of federal Medicare and Medicaid fraud suits, including whistleblower cases, such as the multi-million dollar settlements in recent months involving nursing home care, pharmaceutical sales, and hospice, thus explaining how millions in de facto fines often involve no admissions of wrongdoing.
Or as I sometimes describe such agreements to settle, defendants must decide whether they can live with the financial effect of the monetary terms, and must promise merely to never do again what they say they never did before.
But I worry, will customers -- which in Medicare and Medicaid cases, usually means seniors and disabled persons -- be the ones who pay the downstream price of the settlement, especially without clear admissions of wrongdoing in the past?
Thursday, June 5, 2014
Does a resident have a private right of action for violation of key provisions of the federal Nursing Home Reform Act?
For example, federal Medicare/Medicaid Law specifies residents have certain "Transfer and Discharge Rights." A certified nursing facility must permit each resident to "remain in the facility" and must "not transfer or discharge the resident" except for certain specified reasons, usually requiring 30 days advance notice. But what happens if a facility ignores the limitations on acceptable grounds for transfer or discharge, including the 30 day notice requirement?
In its decision on May 12, 2014 in Schwerdtfeger v. Alden Long Grove Rehabilitation and Health Care Center, the federal district court in the Northern District of Illinois ruled that a discharge improper under federal law does not trigger a private statutory remedy. As described in the clearly written decision, an abrupt transfer of the resident from the nursing home into a hospital followed the resident's "verbal dispute with a nurse" and another resident. While federal law permits transfers where there someone's safety or health is endangered, it does not appear from the decision that the nursing home claimed the verbal dispute created such a danger.
Nonetheless, the court dismissed the resident's federal claim, concluding that the statutory language regarding discharge and transfer rights in Medicare and Medicaid law "does not manifest a 'clear and unambiguous' Congressional intention to create private rights in favor of individual nursing facility residents.... The NHRA [Nursing Home Reform Act] provides an administrative process in the state courts rather than a private remedy in federal court."
In so ruling, the federal district court declined to follow the analysis of the Third Circuit in Grammer v. John J. Kane Regional Centers-Glen Hazel, 570 3d 520 (3d Cir. 2008), which as a "matter of first impression" ruled that the NHRA was sufficiently "rights creating" that it could trigger a cause of action regarding quality of care under Section 1983.
My question, reflecting my teaching interests no doubt, is whether the nursing home's discharge was a breach of contract? Most nursing home contracts I've reviewed either directly or indirectly "adopt" the protections of the NHRA as specific rights of their residents. (Indeed, I would be leery of any nursing home that did not do that.) So, even if not a violation of federal law, wouldn't such a discharge breach the contract? I suspect there is probably a court decision or law review article on this topic -- perhaps our readers have a citation?
Of course, in seeking a right to sue directly under the NHRA, the resident was probably also seeking a right to claim attorneys' fees under the civil rights law; breach of contract claims, even if successful, may not make a claimant "whole" because of the likelihood of small consequential damages and no contractual right to seek attorneys' fees. It is not clear from the Schwerdtfeger decision whether a breach of contract claim was alleged, although the federal court did "decline" to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the plaintiff's "state law claims."
Sunday, June 1, 2014
The Minensota DHS says that it is actively working to implement the plan and other mandates of the federal court, including departmentwide training on the agreement and plan.
The Jensen Settlement Agreement, approved Dec. 5, 2011, allowed the department and the plaintifs to resolve the claims in a mutually agreeable manner.
More information is on the Jensen Settlement page on DHS' website.